RALEIGH, N.C.—Standing on a rooftop next to superstar rapper Ludacris while filming a music video as dozens of people swayed to the beat, rapper Small World couldn’t seem to believe it—he’d finally arrived.
“This means more to me than anything. It’s been a long time coming. There’s a lot of pain and struggle where I’m from,” says Small World, 25, who grew up in Henderson, N.C., but has lived in Raleigh. “This is huge (for) us, for North Carolina.”
Small World, birth name Sheldon Bullock, is the latest addition to Ludacris’ Disturbing Tha Peace (DTP) Records, and the new face of North Carolina hip-hop. And according to Small World, DTP and other artists from around the state, North Carolina is about to explode onto the national music map.
States such as New York, California, Georgia, Virginia and Missouri have long histories (in rap years, anyway) of producing big-time rappers. But besides Greenville’s Petey Pablo and the Durham-based, kind-of-underground Little Brother, there hasn’t been much hip-hop success in the Tar Heel State.
Ludacris—aka Chris Bridges—met Small World last year after hearing about the 25-year-old rapper from Free, the former co-host of Black Entertainment Television’s video countdown show “106 & Park.” He signed the Sanderson High School alum to a recording contract.
“Small World is different than anybody else out there. You really can’t compare him to anybody else because of his style,” Ludacris says. “He’s really going to put North Carolina on the map. He’s really putting the state out there.”
That’s why Ludacris was standing on a barbershop roof near St. Augustine’s College with his new artist, filming a video after the shoot was run off a street corner for not having a permit.
Small World has hustle and flow that seem to match Luda’s cadence and hark back to the older school days of rap when hip-hop was based on delivery, not beats. The crowds that converged during the video shoot seemed to move and bob their heads to the rappers’ words as much as the beat.
As Raleigh police hurried the video shooters and bystanders off the corner early in the day, Small World thought about why he’ll follow Clay Aiken as the next big thing from Raleigh and why North Carolina rappers haven’t made a dramatic dent in the hip-hop scene.
“It’s hard coming out of here,” Small World says. “They don’t really respect North Carolina for its talent. And I can’t say why.”
DTP CEO Jeff Dixon, who runs the company with Ludacris, says the Tar Heel State has plenty of talent waiting to be exposed.
“We scouted North Carolina, and we found Small World and his (group, Norfclik),” says Dixon, who thinks the Raleigh-Durham area has the talent and grittiness to become the next hip-hop mecca, as Atlanta was 15 years ago. “North Carolina doesn’t really have its own sound yet. But there are a lot of talented people here.”
Much of that other talent was on display last weekend as local singers and rappers performed at the Hot Car & Bike fest. Among them was vocalist Aleysia Nikole, who seemed to move the crowd when she sang a cappella.
The 23-year-old Raleigh resident attended a music seminar hosted by Ludacris and says she’ll take what she learned to try to make it big.
“It’s a lot of talent here,” said Nikole, who said she has several record labels scouting her. “North Carolina is untouched, a gold mine ready to get dug up.”
Also hoping to make it big from North Carolina, Small World’s homeboy Derrick “Brolic” Chavez will be one of the next artists DTP will produce.
Also a Henderson native and Sanderson alum, Brolic says North Carolina is hot and just waiting to show the world. His album will be released next year.
“We love North Carolina and we really think that we should be heard right now,” said Brolic as he stood on the side of Raleigh Boulevard during the unlawful portion of the shoot.
“Nobody comes to North Carolina to look for talent. But we can make that better for us. There are so many cats out here doing their thing, by us coming out, we’re just bringing it to the forefront.”